WCL alums power Big West conference

Each summer, the Big West conference sends its best young players to the West Coast League to further develop. That development is on full display throughout the conference as WCL alums are excelling early this spring for #5-ranked Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to #9-ranked Cal State Fullerton to #15-ranked UC Santa Barbara to traditional Big West contenders UC Irvine, UC Riverside and Long Beach State. The league has also been home to stars from Big West newcomer Hawaii and long-time member UC Davis.

Larry Lee’s Cal Poly Mustangs are led by former Walla Walla Sweets southpaw Matt Imhof (pictured above) and ex-Corvallis Knights slugger Nick Torres. Both Imhoff (0-5, 6.60) and Torres (.286, 154 abs, 15 doubles) played in the WCL in 2012. The Mustangs’ ace lefty is 5-1 with a 1.27 ERA and has struck out 64 over 6 starts and 42.2 innings pitched while Torres leads Cal Poly in RBI with 24, home runs with 4 and in batting with a .356 average.

Cal Poly’s co-closers, Reid Reilly (25 apps, 1-2, 1.75) and Taylor Chris (12 apps, 2-1, 3.57), pitched in the WCL in 2011 for the Kitsap BlueJackets and Bend Elks, respectively. Reilly has recorded 5 saves over 10 appearances and is 0-1 with a 2.30 ERA while Chris is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA and has registered 3 saves while striking out 20 over 8 appearances and 14.2 innings pitched for the 19-4 Mustangs. Cal Poly’s starting lineup also includes 2013 first-team all-WCL shortstop Peter Van Gansen of Corvallis (.310, 142 abs, 11 sb, 24 RBIs); outfielder Jordan Ellis (.279, 129 abs, 8 sb), who played with Victoria last summer and with Kitsap in 2012; 2013 all-WCL honorable mention pitcher Casey Bloomquist of Corvallis (4-0, 3.45); and third baseman Jimmy Allen (.239, 180 abs, 8 doubles) who starred for the 2011 WCL champion Corvallis Knights. The slick-fielding Van Gansen is hitting .258 with only 2 errors and 46 assists; Ellis is batting .294 and has swiped a team-high 6 bags; Bloomquist is 5-0 with an impressive 1.82 ERA and Allen is hitting .323 with 9 doubles and 17 RBIs.

In total, Cal Poly’s roster features 16 WCL alums including the aforementioned and Michael Dingilian (Bend, 2012), Ryan Drobny (Wenatchee, 2012), Bryan Granger (Corvallis, 2012), Michael Hoo (Cowlitz, 2010), Alex Michaels (Corvallis, 2012), Tommy Pluschkell (Bend, 2012), John Schuknecht (Victoria, 2013) and Danny Zardona (Walla Walla, 2013; Bend, 2012).

Cal State Fullerton, 13-8 this spring, features 2012 second-team all-WCL pitcher Thomas Eshelman of Klamath Falls (16 app, 5-0, 0,61) and former Cowlitz Black Bears hurler Grahamm Wiest (9 starts, 2-3, 2.57). Eshelman is the master of command as the right-hander has walked only one over 6 starts and 49 innings pitched while striking out 37. The Titans ace is 4-0 early with 2 complete games and a 1.47 ERA. Wiest, a who pitched for Cowlitz in 2011, has posted Fullerton’s lowest ERA at 1.24 and is 1-2 over 5 starts while striking out 33 and walking only five over 36.1 innings pitched. Two Titan starters enjoyed summers in the WCL, outfielders Austin Diemer of Cowlitz (.279, 140 abs, 8 doubles, 11 sb) and Greg Velazquez of Klamath Falls (.313, 164 abs, 9 doubles). Both Diemer and Velazquez earned second-team all-WCL honors in 2012. Velazquez also played for Cowlitz in 2012. Former Klamath Falls catcher A.J. Kennedy (.224, 58 abs) and Victoria infielder Timmy Richards (.226, 146 abs) are also earning starts for Cal State Fullerton. Kennedy played for the Gems in 2012 and Richards for the HarbourCats last summer. Diemer is tied for the team lead in runs scored with 14 and is hitting .253; Velazquez has blasted 2 home runs and collected 14 RBI while batting .224; and Kennedy and Richards are hitting .273 and .205, respectively, in part-time duty.

UC Santa Barbara’s great 17-3 start has been sparked by a list of ex-WCLers including starting pitchers Justin Jacome of Medford (4 starts, 1-1, 0.87), Dylan Hecht of Corvallis (8 apps, 0-2, 3.06) and Domenic Mazza of Cowlitz (11 apps, 8 starts, 4-2, 3.61); relief pitcher Greg Mahle of Corvallis (9 apps, 2-1, 2.74, 2 svs); starting outfielder Cam Newell of Klamath Falls (.388, 103 abs), starting infielder Peter Maris of Klamath Falls (.270, 115 abs) and starting outfielder/pitcher Robby Nesovic of Victoria (1-1, 4.15). This spring, Jacome is 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA over 5 starts; Hecht is 2-0 and has struck out 16 over 5 appearances and 13.2 innings pitched; Mazza is 2-1 with a 3.90 ERA over 6 appearances and 4 starts and Nesovic is 2-1 with a 2.55 ERA over three starts. Mahle is 4-1 and has posted a 1.35 ERA over 11 appearances. Newell is currently hitting .239 and Maris .250 with a homer, 16 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. Jacome, Hecht, Mazza and Nesovic all pitched in the WCL last summer. Mazza and Newell were named honorable mention all-WCL in 2013. Mahle earned first-team all-WCL honors in 2012.

The West Coast League has been home to UC Irvine head coach Mike Gillespie’s top young players. Two of his weekend starting pitchers are ex-Corvallis Knights. The WCL’s 2013 ERA leader and first-team all-WCL southpaw Elliot Surrey (5-1, 1.26) shutout Grand Canyon on Saturday, March 22 and is 2-2 with a 3.09 ERA over 6 starts. Former Knight right-hander Evan Brock (2-0, 1.12) is 4-1 and has posted a 3.53 ERA over 6 starts. Brock pitched for Corvallis in 2010. The Anteaters lineup is stacked with WCL alums. Corner infielders and former Wenatchee AppleSox Connor Spencer (.380, 14 doubles, 3 hr, 36 RBIs) and Taylor Sparks (.388, 134 abs, 12 doubles, 9 HR, 30 RBIs) lead the UCI in hitting with .325 and .315 batting averages, respectively. Sparks, a third baseman, leads the Anteaters in triples (4) and RBIs (17) and is tied for the team lead in home runs with ex-Walla Walla Sweets outfielder Kris Paulino with 2. Sparks starred for the 2012 WCL champion AppleSox and earned second-team all-WCL honors while Spencer was a 2013 first-team all-WCL selection at first base. Paulino (.218, 110 abs, 2 HR, 26 RBIs) played for Walla Walla the past two summers. WCL alums Chris Rabago of Corvallis, Grant Palmer of Wenatchee and Jerry McClanahan of Kelowna start at shortstop, second base and catcher, respectively, for the ‘Eaters. Rabago is tied for the UCI lead in doubles with Sparks with 5 and is hitting .258, Palmer is batting .260 and McClanahan is hitting .269 with a homer and 10 RBIs. Rabago (.222, 144 abs, 17 RBIs) played the last two summers with Corvallis, Palmer (.268, 142 abs) last season with the AppleSox and McClanahan (.295, 4 HR, 17 RBIs) earned 2012 second-team all-WCL honors with the Kelowna Falcons and also played for the Bellingham Bells in 2011.

UC Riverside’s top five hitters are all hitting over. 300 with two hitting .400 or better, and all five developed in the West Coast League. First baseman Francisco Tellez leads the Highlanders in hitting with a .402 batting average. Tellez starred for Kitsap in 2012 leading the BlueJackets in batting (.298, 151 abs) and doubles (9) while collecting 21 RBIs. UCR infielder Nick Vilter is hitting .400 and has blasted a team-leading 8 home runs. Vilter (.220, 132 abs) played for the Walla Walla Sweets the past two summers. Vilter is tied for the UCR lead in RBI with Tellez with 22. Outfielder Devyn Bolasky, infielder/outfielder Joe Chavez and outfielder David Andriese round out the hot-hitting Highlanders, batting .383, .319 and .308, respectively. Bolasky (.337, 172 abs, 8 doubles, 23 RBIs) earned 2013 all-WCL honorable mention honors with Cowlitz; Chavez (.279, 104 abs, 7 doubles, 2 HR, 10 SB) played for the Medford Rogues last summer; and Andriese (.226, 115 abs, 3 HR, 20 RBIs) played for Corvallis in 2010 and 2011. Chavez leads the Highlanders in stolen bases with 10 and Andriese is second with 9.

Ex-WCL hurlers Nick Sabo and Ty Provencher are pitching very well for the Long Beach State Dirtbags. Sabo (6-3, 2.62, 12 starts), who led the WCL in wins (6) and strikeouts (57) last summer with the Klamath Falls Gems, is 2-2 with a 3.03 ERA over 6 starts. Provencher (5-3, 3.45), who pitched for the Victoria HarbourCats last summer, leads Long Beach in wins with 4 and is tied for the team lead in appearances with 10 as Ty is 4-2 with a 2.50 ERA over 18 innings pitched. Sabo earned 2013 first-team all-WCL honors and Provencher was named honorable mention all-WCL.

Note: Stats in parenthesis (above) are for the player’s latest season in the West Coast League.